Northern Light Theatre’s production of Squeamish (by Los Angeles-based writer Aaron Mark) is heavy and terrifying — for the people who made it.
“It’s a difficult show, very dense in its language, and deals with very heavy subject matter,” says director Trevor Schmidt. “We actually extended the rehearsal process by an extra week, and we worked half days, spread over a three-week period, so that the actor would have time in the late afternoons and evenings to go home and let it percolate and do some personal work on it on her own, because it’s a big, scary script.”
The actor is Davina Stewart, who plays Sharon, a psychotherapist in her 50s who has just returned from a funeral in Texas for her nephew, who committed suicide after taking himself off his psychotropic drugs and spiralling. Sharon comes back in the middle of the night to her own therapist’s apartment to speak to him, because she’s gone off her psychotropic drugs too. “She’s had an experience — she’s had an adventure — and is in distress. And she recounts what has happened and led her to the place that they’re at now,” Schmidt says. “That’s where we start the show.”
Stewart’s as talented and experienced as any actor in Edmonton, but a show in which the lone actor sits on a chair the entire time, dealing with dense lines and deadly subject matter with only city sounds underscoring the show, is a lot even for her and the experienced Schmidt. “It’s a terrifying story, a thriller that slowly unfolds in a slow burn kind of way,” he says, “but it was also a difficult prospect as a theatre project.”
While there’s nothing visually gory on stage, Schmidt says there is “a lot of talk of blood,” so strongly hemophobic people might want to stay away. “After previews, someone said they had to look away a few times, even though it’s all words,” Schmidt says.
Once it starts, there is no letup — for actor or audience — and as an “outspoken, purposefully controversial and boundary-pushing theatre company,” Schmidt says the company feels it’s fulfilling its role. “We like to present stories to people that make them think. We never like to choose plays that dictate what side of any moral dilemma you should come down on. This is a play that’s really about addiction and long term trauma, familial trauma — what is hereditary, what is passed down? What are our natural instincts as human beings? It’s all through the microcosm of blood in this particular show, but I think that there will be a lot of discussion about addiction and about trauma that will come out of it.”
Squeamish plays at the ATB Financial Arts Barns until November 5.